Long weekend in Slovakian Tatra mountains in the winter. Is it a good idea?

After joyful Christmas days filled with long festive meals, we have decided to get sporty and spend few days in the mountains. We have chosen Slovakia which is famous of two gorgeous natural attractions: the geothermal water pools and the Tatra mountains known to be the smallest high mountain range in the world.

Slovakia is a small country in Central Europe which impresses with its extensive wellbeing offer. You will find here many spa towns which have curative waters as well as thermal pools. Bathing in them has beneficial effect on health. Apart from it, you can come here to enjoy skiing in cosy mountain resorts which are much more affordable than Swiss, French and Italian ones, there is plenty of well-kept facilities for both beginner and experienced skiers. Apart from winter sports, you can enjoy hiking, paths have different difficulty level so you can choose the one which corresponds to your skills and abilities. Before planning your trip, make sure which paths are open in the winter and that your have appropriate clothing. Apart from winter season, Slovakian mountains are a very good choice for active holidays from middle of spring to middle/end of October. The resorts are situated just at the feet of the Tatra mountains and are filled with small pension houses offering accommodation so you can have breathtaking views just from your balcony.

Visitors can enjoy such views from their hotels and guest houses.

The atmosphere in the towns is very calm and cameral, making it a perfect relaxing sporty holiday spot. Narrow-gauge railway operates frequently between the towns and villages making all the attractions and natural sites easily accessible (and the views are spectacular!).

Important: Tatras are the smallest hing mountain range in the world which means you don’t need some special excursions or few days expeditions to reach the peaks. Of course, it doesn’t  mean that one can be reckless and you still need to check well the hiking path, have appropriate clothing and monitor weather conditions since bad preparation can result in serious accidents. 

Practical information:

  • Winter season: from December to March, spring-summer-autumn season: from June to October. Note that the seasons can be shifted depending on weather conditions of a particular year.
  • How to get to the High Tatras? Flight to Bratislava (Slovak capital) or Prague (Czech capital) and a take train to Poprad. Alternatively, rent a car in Bratislava or Prague and drive to the region. You can also arrive from Poland by bus from Zakopane (Flixbus Zakopane – Stary Smokovec) but the easiest and fastest way is by car.
  • Currency and payments: Slovakia is in euro zone. Curiously, many transactions are accepted in cash only so make sure to always have some on you.
  • General tips for safe hiking: always have with you a map of your hike, take appropriate clothing and equipment adequate to the weather conditions and difficulty level of your route. Take a power bank to charge your phone. Always check weather forecast before your hike and don’t go to the mountains in bad weather conditions. It’s customary to leave your hiking plan, departure hour and approximate return time as well as a phone number in your hotel/guest house so in case of problems your hotel can react and help you.
  • Access to the facilities: many attractions such as cable cars, ski passes or thermal pools entries can be booked in advance via app GOPASS. If you purchase the attraction few days in advance, you will pay few euro less.

In this post I write about worth visiting places in the High Tatras (Vysokie Tatry). Tourism in the Tatras began mainly with sport events. Winter sports have a long tradition and play an important role in this region even today. Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and jumping on ski jumps in Strbske Pleso have been always attracting thousands of fans. Cross-Country Skiing World Championships were held here in 1970 and flawless snow conditions enabled organising many interesting venues. Nowadays, the region offers a lot of sport activities both in summer and winter seasons.

Stary Smokovec

Stary Smokovec is a starting point for hiking trips to Hrebienok waterfall or Studeny potok (brook), valleys of Mala Dolina and Velicka Dolina as well as many other alpine locations and chalets.

In fact, Stary Smokovec was the first settlement in Tatras, the main resort to establish the town was refreshing mineral water that rises of the southern hillside of Mt Slavkovsky stit. The Slavic version implicates “zmok” (black water chicken) that would come to the spring often (zmok – smok). The German explanation of the original name “Schmecks” refers to German phrase “schmeckt’s” (= is it tasty?) which was used to offer a glass of water. The water was recommended to be drunk every day due to its healing and beneficial effects. Even Queen Maria Theresa had carboys full of it transported to her palace for personal use. Nowadays, the spring is open to the public and is very popular among locals (and tourists). Water is also bottled in nearby facility and offered in some of the restaurants and hotels so watch out! Stary Smokovec area has many spa resorts  which offer individual climatotherapy including inhalations, special baths, Tatra nasal showers among other procedures (check also Novy Smokovec, just one kilometer away).

The town has good gastronomical base (you will find places specialising in both local and international cuisine), few upscale hotels as well as many guest houses and chalets which are very popular here. 

Stary Smokovec has a good gastronomical offer, you can try traditional Slovakian dishes as well as filling and warming comfort meals to get back your energy after sporty day. You will also find here many charming bars and cafes, for me any après-ski wouldn’t be complete without generous portion of bombardino!

Stary Smokovec  is a convenient place to begin your hikes but it has also some cultural offer including Flora villa with exhibitions of the Tatra Gallery and Tatra Jewels; Museum of Tatra cinematography and photography, Church of the Immaculate Conception of Virgin Mary from 1888 and Calvary, Tatra Stations of the Cross. During a walk in the area you will find more historical churches and chapels, you can also admire the original architecture of local villas with a mountain view in the background.

Architecture enthusiasts surely will enjoy a walk around Stary Smokovec.

Narrow-gauge railway connects Stary Smokovec with Poprad as well as ski resorts (where you will find cable car facilities also for non-skiers) and starting points of many hikes. Therefore, the town is a very central place which is very convenient for Tatra’s explorations since you will easily get from here to main attractions of the region.

Additionally, if you want to spend a day in a historical town in the High Tatras, check out Kezmarok, Levoca or visit the Spis castle.

Strbske Pleso and Tatranska Polianka

Strbske Pleso (pleso means tarn) and Tatranska Polianka count to the oldest tourist and spa settlements in the High Tatras. They were established in 1872 and 1888. Nowadays, Strbske Pleso is a very popular sports-tourist centre that offers hiking as well as alpine and cross-country skiing. The area around the lake is an easy walk perfect for families with small children. On the way you encounter many view points with spectacular mountain scenery. Nearby Strbske Pleso you will find many skiing facilities for both advanced and beginner skiers.

Golden hour is a perfect time for the last stroll around the lake which is a short walk away from the train station.

A short walk gets you also to cable car to chalet under Mt Solisko where  very popular ski station is located. Alternatively, you can skip cable car and climb up along a tourist trail (around 1:30 hr) from the settlement of Strbske Pleso. If you’re more interested in hikes you can choose a direct tourist trail leading to Mount Predne Solisko (1hr) or more difficult trail from Strbske Pleso to Mlynicka Dolina and then through small bridge Bystra lavka to Furkotska dolina, from the crossroads to the Chalet under Mount Solisko and back to Strbske Pleso (or you can opt for cable car for the last leg).

A comfortable chairlift will get you to Mt. Solisko where a popular ski station is located.
From Mt. Solisko you can enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of the settlement of Strbske Pleso as well as surrounding Tatras.
The Chalet under Mount Solisko started to operate in 1944. It’s built next to the upper station of the ski lift. In the chalet you van grab your lunch or small snack while enjoying beautiful views of the area if you will choose to stay on the balcony.

Tatranska Poliana offers spa facilities, the local forest and Velicka dolina (valley) are sought-after walking destinations. Another popular hiking paths are Batizovska dolina, Polsky hreben (ridge), Mt Vychodna or you can climb Mt Gerlachovsky stit (peak) with a mountain guide.

Tatranska Lomnica, Skalnate Pleso, Lomnicke Sedlo and Lomnicky Stit 

Tatranska Lomnica is a convenient gate to the High Tatras due to frequent train connection with Stary Smokovec. This is a pleasant little town with plenty of restaurants, bars and souvenir shops, all on the way between the train station and the cable car and skiing facilities.

Before or after your sporty activities you can easily get a tasty snack or buy your souvenirs when in Tatranska Lomnica.

Skalnate Pleso is a popular choice by skiers with a ski station loacted there, however, experienced hikers can set out for a longer hiking trip over Mt. Svistovka to the Chalet at Zelene pleso or for an easier hike past the Waterfalls of Studeny potok (brook) to Hrebienok (really recommend this one, then from Hrebienok you can continue to descent to Stary Smokovec!). On the way up (and down) on a cable car you can enjoy magnificent views at the Tatras. In the chalet you can get lunch or small refreshment. You will also find a souvenir shop on the lower floor. If you’re not up to longer hikes you can walk around the lake, it’s an easy walk even if you’re with children. Along the path you have many educative boards with information about the wildlife, the observatory and the settlements around pleso.

Pictures from Skalnate Pleso show how drastic the weather change in the mountains can be. A day before we had perfect visibility and a lot of sun in Strbske Pleso and just several hours later we had a foggy cloudy day with practically no view of the high mountains.

Lomnicky stit (peak) has 2634 metres above the sea level and can be reached only using cable car. If you are interested in creations of technology, you will appreciate the cable car that operates to Mt Lomnicky stit. In years 1940-1955, it was considered a world-class innovation achievement and was exceeded only by the cable car of Chamonix, Aiguille du Mede in France. When going up with the lift you can still experience a touch of historical charm as well as get stunned by the views during the ride. The panorama stretching from the peak is spectacular, however you can stay on the top only for limited amount of time since the only way down is with a lift. There is no official paths up to the mountain which makes the journey even more fascinating. You can book your rides using Gopass app, if you plan in advance you can save few euros on your purchase. However, the weather in the Tatras can be surprising and since the lift is quite pricey it’s preferable to have your trip in good visibility to enjoy the views. It’s up to you to weight the risk, however I’d prefer to pay few euros more and buy the cable car tickets at the same day to make sure I have optimal weather to admire the mountains. If you want to combine the ride with hiking, you can climb up to Skalnate Pleso and from there take the lift to Lomnicky stit. When back to Skalnate Pleso you can go down on your own to Tatranska Lomnica.

The day of our visit, the visibility was quite poor so we didn’t opt for lift up to Lomnicky stit.

A 2-seater chairlift will take you to Lomnicke Sedlo whoch offers spectacular views of the valley of Mala Studena Dolina. Children will enjoy the adventures of Tatra Wilderness which is an eco-friendly educative project for families. If you’re lucky during your cable car you may spot chamois grazing on the grass or hear marmots whistling aloud. If you’re up to some hike, in 30 minutes walk from Lomnicke Sedlo to Mt. Velka Lomnicka veza, you will find a point with most beautiful bird’s eye view of Mt. Lomnicky stit and the tarn of Skalnate Pleso.

Even more of hiking ideas

In the Tatras there is more than 600km of market tourist trails. The difficulty levels are varied so families with children can use marked forest trails and educational trails, less experienced tourists can choose the paths through valleys, and experienced mountaineers can set out for accessible peaks. You will also find few wheelchair-friendly trails for persons with physical disabilities. 

The exciting trails you may consider in your planning are:

  • The so called Tatransla magistrala (main tourist trail) is the most important and longest marked tourist trail. It stretches from the southern hillside of the High Tatras between the settlement of Podbanske and the tarn of Velke Biele pleso. The path is marked with red colour and has 46km length, it runs around the whole southern side of the Tatras up to its highest point at the altitude of 2037 meters.
  • The trip to Vel’ke Hincovo pleso (tarn), which passes the most significant tarns from Strbske Pleso past Popradske pleso through the beautiful valley of Mengusovska dolina. The path to Popradske pleso is an easy trail suitable for children, persons with disabilities and elderly visitors since it’s along an asphalt road.

Before your hike, make sure that you have the map with marked trail that you want to take. You will find many maps available for free in local tourist offices, the staff can give you advice concerning other nearby trails.

Cyclotourism

The Tatras mountains region can be also explored by bike since you will find here more than 300km of marked routes with various difficulty levels, different paths are suitable for families with children, lovers of mountain and road cycling as well as experienced sportsmen. The trails are marked with colours which indicate the difficulty. To receive more information as well as map of the facilities, check the tourist office where you can obtain all useful materials (many maps are available for free). The region co-organises international cycle races: Around Slovakia, Tour de Pologne and regional competitions: Tatry Tour, Around the Tatras and many other smaller venues.

Summer activities

The region offers plenty of attractions for tourists coming in the summer season. Boating on the tarn of Strbske pleso (tarn) is very popular and the tarn itself is on the list of 77 Wonders of the World. Except of hiking along the numerous trails you can also do horse riding, goecaching, pay visit to the rope parks, or do some running along marked running tracks or try nordic walking. You will also find in the area geothermal pools which are a very relaxing activity after your day full of physical exercise.

Cross country skiing

Cross country skiing is a typical winter activity in the High Tatras. The region offers many cross-country tracks in every resort with the total length of 65km. The largest and most popular complex is located in Srbske Pleso. Another very good places to do cross country skiing is area of Tatranska Lomnica and Stary Smokovec offering easy to medium difficult trails which are regularly groomed and have total length of 25km. If you don’t have your own equipment you will easily find rental facilities in all mentioned resorts. Cross country skiing is a very interesting alternative to alpine skiing since you can admire winer nature in your own pace. You can take as much time as you need to enjoy the beauty and the scenery of the surrounding mountains. All trails in the region are marked to understand the terrain, vertical drop, altitude and length of the path as well as safety suggestions so you can well prepare before the activity.

Skiing in the Tatras

You will find 24 groomed ski pistes adjusted to needs of skiers. Snow is guaranteed here for 5 months a year, the longest course counts 6.5km long and starts at the altitude of 2200m. The most popular ski resorts are Tatranska Lomnica and Strbske Pleso. Tatranska Lomnica attracts skiers with 12 ski pistes having various difficulty levels and 7 cable cars and chairlifts. Most experienced skiers can enjoy the highest located and the steepest piste in Lomnicke sedlo (saddle). The resort offers also 6km of gentler ski slopes which are suitable for families with children. Strbske Pleso is the highest located ski resort in Slovakia with a lower chairlift station built at the altitude of 1400m. The resort has the longest ski season and offers attractions such as slalom, downhill, cross-country skiing and alpine skiing. Skiers can use 9kim of ski pistes. In many smaller resorts you will also find varied ski pistes for more and less experienced skiers as well as ski school and ski equipment rental facilities. In the Tatras, you can also enjoy ski touring with skiing and hiking combined. In the Tatra National Park you will find 6 ski touring areas designed for experienced sportsmen. 

Winter hiking

Skiing is of course not the only activity you can enjoy in the winter. In the Tatras you will find many trails which are open for tourists outside of summer season.  When going for a hiking in winter make sure you have proper clothes and equipment, it’s also good to inquire about the particular trails in the tourist office or speak to the staff from the Tatra National Park. In this post I will mention 4 popular winter hiking destinations in the Tatras:

  • Cascades of Studeny potok (brook): this is a short 45 minutes hike from Hrebienok to best-known Slovakian mountains waterfalls. You can also visit Rainer’s chalet on the way. You can easily get to Hrebienok by cable car from the town of Stary Smokovec, alternatively you can climb up on your own for prolonged experience.
  • Popradske Pleso (tarn): a comfortable trail runs from a tram stop to Popradske pleso which is the 4th largest tarn in the Tatras. This is an easy walk, you can also have a stop in Majlath’s chalet for a snack.
  • Tatra temple: this is the biggest temple of ice in Central Europe and big attraction especially for families with children. You can easily access this place from Hrebienok which is connected with Stary Smokovec by cable car (or you can climb up yourself).
  • Sliezsky dom (mountain hotel): this is the highest located hotel in the High Tatras. The hike starts in the settlements of Tatranska Polianka and takes 2 hours 15 minutes.

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